Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Senate bills seek expanded gambling, new oversight

The Florida Senate on Monday unveiled a proposal that would bring casino resorts to Miami-Dade and Broward counties and expand gambling statewide with one new wrinkle: The gaming industry would be subject to new regulations.

In addition to the casinos, slot machines would be allowed around the state, dog tracks could race fewer dogs, greyhound injuries would be reported — and all this could happen without voter approval.

The Senate proposals, contained in three separate bills, are the product of nearly a year of study and more than $400,000 in taxpayer money spent to review the economic and revenue impact. But the ideas face steep resistance from House leaders, incoming Senate leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando — and even the governor, who may not want the issue in an election year.

"I thought this would be a very good starting line to have the discussion," said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee. He said the sweeping rewrite is a preliminary proposal that will be vetted for weeks when the Legislature begins its two-month session next week.

In addition to licensing two destination resort casinos, the bills allow for slot machines at dog tracks in Palm Beach and Lee counties and a rodeo track in Gadsden County. They allow a reduction in the number of dog races conducted at the state's 13 greyhound tracks, and requires that track owners and trainers report dog injuries. All the changes would take effect this year.

Complicating the proposal is that expansion of gambling in Florida could nullify the state's $230 million-a-year gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said he will not accept any gambling expansion unless the governor signs off on it and negotiates a new compact with the Seminole Tribe.

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